Tan Tai Yong是新加坡国立大学南亚研究所的主任。 他目前是副教务长(学生生活)、管委议员说了一句非常贴心的话：—— ‘历史性意识是需要理智正确和真诚的’（摘自2014年9月15日海峡时报：《历史的许多深浅的灰色》（《‘History’s many shades of grey’》）
讲完这句， 他的下一句 进入详细说明他所 认为是1950年的政治骚乱事件真实的报道:
人民行动党敢和左翼斗争能够‘骑上共产主义的老虎’而最终没有被吞食在肚子里。在政治角斗的情况下 一个政治集团 终于把另一个集团治对手打倒了。
这个‘骑上共产主义的老虎’的主要是用来比喻叙述殖民者和行动党的对事件的观点 它的结束不止于冷藏行动 而包括接下来的扣留行动。这是涉及‘共产主义’与‘非共产主义’之间的斗争——正如殖民地的文件把他们称呼为‘右翼’，虽然他们自己喜欢自称是‘温和派’。）
这些‘修正主义性’或‘替代性’ 的条件的历史是摘录那些有偏见不健全的历史资料的参考书籍。那是属于带有宣传性质的学术历史——那就是说，宣传代替于学术研究。这种是在展示‘政治意图’引伸出2个问题：这样的水准是否也适用于‘非修正’的历史学术研究；同时， 有没有‘政治意图’是否是一个 适当评估历史学术性的作品的条件。
不管是不是‘修正主义’，一份学术性的历史陈述不是要判断对历史学家的意图或者宣传。在专业历史学者的群体里评估他们的成员的工作室建立在全面的资源和收入的分析的探究复杂的水平上。这些评估工作是来自书评的形式和无数次的引用学术的出版物。假设‘政治意图’覆盖了学者学术研究，那么，专业历史学肯定会把他严肃地批评 即使他们是相同的政治派别。就如说，假设一位历史学者忽略了相关的资料 因为这资料否定他的论据或者‘政治意图’，那他的学术探究就是低级的。
出于同样的原因，学者接受‘替代性’和‘修正主义’的标志根本并不会被授予免除于严厉的学术水准。并不是说 写修正主义’的历史学家就是一个有特别的勇气或者批判性思想是例外的人。事实上， 修正主义’这类的名称是毫无意义的。只有高水平的历史写作和没有水平的历史写作这两者之间的历史作品。这也适用于‘修正主义’历史。历史性学者最大的贡献是强化‘历史的意识’，通过精湛的学术知识把他或她的的社会与过去相关的牵引出来。
在2014年5月11日，《纽约时报》也揭露了类似的信息。在大学工作的历史学家宣布，已经能够改变了心态。其中一个说明‘禁区’限制……一旦被殖民主义者和过去的殖民地的体系严格的监视。但是，现在没有学生会问她会不会因为害怕被逮捕而不讨论非正统观点的课题。 历史学家在课堂里到底讨论了哪些历史课题 会引起学生们这么关心呢？如何为这样的问题提供答案？
上述的传达信息是在那些坏日子对历史学家所产生的恐惧心态一去不复返了。现在这些‘修正主义历史者’的书籍已经出版了 现在是应该写同有关成功和失败的历史的时候了。就像美国人公开了自己从残酷的黑奴压迫记录中解放出来和撰写了过去错误做法而净化了国家的灵魂。正如电影《 做了12年的奴隶》（12 years a Slave）也净化过去错误的做法国家的灵魂。
在对待有关冷藏行动的历史问题上，对于这些学者而言，要保留他们为学者的名誉 而尝试处理这个（历史）的转变 近乎是不可能的。
They do say the darnest things: What a to-do about Operation Coldstore
（Originally published in firstname.lastname@example.org）
September 29, 2014
Dr. Hong Lysa
‘Sound historical consciousness requires intellectual rigour and honesty’ — a very heartening statement by Tan Tai Yong, Nominated Member of Parliament, Vice-Provost (Student Life), director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, (‘History’s many shades of grey’, Straits Times 15 Sept 2014).
He is Professor, Department of History, National University of Singapore, (only the third local Singaporean to achieve this rank in the department’s history) [‘Professor’ is a very high rank in the university.The steps are: assistant professor, associate professor and Professor] of which he was a former Head; author of Creating Greater Malaysia: Decolonisation and the Politics of Merger (2008) and co-author of Singapore: A 700-year history: From Early Emporium to World City (2009).
The Professor underscores that good responsible history will enable Singapore citizens to appreciate complexity without succumbing to propaganda:
It should be motivated by the desire to understand rather than the intention to pass judgment. This can be constructive for building national identity and belonging.
He then promptly proceeds to spell out what he considers as correct insofar as it gives a factual account of the political events of the tumultuous 1950s:
The People’s Action Party took the left wing on and was able to ‘ride the communist tiger’ rather than end up in its stomach. In the political contest that ensued, one group eventually defeated the other.
The ‘riding the communist tiger’ imagery is just about the most hackneyed there is to describe the colonial and the PAP version of events, culminating in, but not stopping at Operation Coldstore. It is about the struggle between ‘the communists’ against ‘the non-communists’—(the ‘rightwing’ as the colonial documents call them, though they prefer to call themselves ‘the moderates’).
The Professor’s injunction on intellectual rigour and honesty as the hallmarks of historical consciousness is directed at historians who have examined the colonial office records for the evidence that the leftwing were subversives, involved in a plot to overthrow the elected government by force and bring in communist rule.
The Professor had spelled out more clearly his attitude to such historians at a Ministry of Education event to introduce the new history textbooks in May 2014:
Prof Tan … welcomed historians’ attempts at writing “revisionist” or “alternate” history – these historians have said they want to break the “hegemonic narrative” of Singapore’s history – if such efforts result in new interpretations and analysis. “But if it is done with political intent”, then I’d say, let’s be more cautious about those approaches.
The term ‘alternative’ or ‘revisionist’ history used in such a context is the code word for biased unsound history, academic history with a political agenda– in other words, propaganda rather than scholarship. This flagging of ‘political intent’ begs two questions: whether such standards apply to academic histories that are ‘non-revisionist’ as well; and the place of ‘political intent’ in assessing the worth of an academic history-writing.
‘Revisionist’ or otherwise, a scholarly presentation is not to be judged by its intention or agenda, if such were present. The community of professional historians evaluates the work of its members based on the level of sophistication of the inquiry, the thoroughness in sources used, and the depth of the analysis. Such evaluations take the form of book reviews, and the number of times the work has been cited in academic publications. If the ‘political intent’ overwhelms the scholarship, then even if one is of the same political persuasion, the assessment has to be that it is an inferior academic inquiry. An example of this is if the historian ignores pertinent documents that do not support his argument or perhaps ‘political intent’.
By the same token, adopting the ‘alternative’ or ‘revisionist’ label by academics does not confer exemption from the rigours of the discipline at all. It does not mean that one is particularly courageous or exceptionally critically-minded. In fact, the term is quite meaningless, for there is only sound history-writing or bad history-writing and the range in between, which applies to ‘revisionist’ history as well. The historian ultimately contributes most to shaping the ‘historical consciousness’, drawing relevance of the past to her or his society through excellence in scholarship.
‘Alternative’ or ‘revisionist history’ however, describes well what former political prisoners have written. They challenge the PAP Story with their account of the events leading to and the circumstance of Operation Coldstore. Their story tells of the struggle between the ‘pseudo-anticolonialist right-wing’ and the ‘genuine socialist anti-colonialists’.
These writers are openly dictated by their political intent, no more than The Singapore Story: The Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. They insist that they were made political prisoners in mass arrests which robbed the leftwing of its leadership in the September 1963 elections, and the waves of imprisonment that followed, leading to the politics of fear in Singapore and the unbroken virtual monopoly of parliament by the PAP. Theirs are head-on counter-narratives to The Singapore Story. Yet in the Professor’s reckoning, they merely ‘add texture to make the narrative more interesting’.
The mainstream media has been the conduit for what remains an unreconstituted black and white history, while claiming that it has many shades of grey. The code used in such writing is a familiar one. The Professor considers as ‘factual account’ the statement that ‘the leftwing was committed to a political ideology and outcome that, if they had come to pass, would have taken Singapore down a very different road.’ No one in Singapore would assume that the speaker might mean a ‘different road’ which could have led to an even better Singapore.
In his 2014 National Day Rally speech, the Prime Minister also had occasion to quote the first man to hold the office, whose government was responsible for Operation Coldstore: ‘Had the PAP lost in September 1963, the history of Singapore would have been different.’
Curiousier and curiouser
Kishore Mahbubani, Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, has also addressed the issue of the questions raised about Operation Coldstore by the former political detainees and by historians. Big ‘Idea number 3’ (12 April 2014) is in his series of essays penned at the invitation of the Straits Times, to help Singapore succeed in the next fifty years– a lead-up to Sg 50, celebrating fifty years of nationhood.
This Big Idea is that Singapore’s success has been incredible, except that unlike the Americans, there is an absence of ‘sets of stories that will bind our hearts together as fellow Singaporeans’ to strengthen the Singapore Spirit. The Professor hence evinced the hope that philanthropists would award a $500,000 prize for the best history book written on Singapore.
It is curious that The Professor has asserted that there are more than enough materials and historical records available to document historically Singapore’s narrative of success.
In March, the Opposition Workers Party leader had asked in Parliament for the National Archives to adopt the Declassification Act by which the documents generated by government ministries among others would be available to the public for research purposes after thirty years.
The government’s reply was that transparency for transparency’s sake does not necessarily make for good governance.
Without the availability of archival documents, the requisite history books cannot be written meaningfully.
It is even more curious that the Professor actually tells the world that historians confess to him that they are chary of writing post-Singapore history as it is too sensitive. Just what is the sensitivity over? What exactly do they fear?
A similar revelation was made in the New York Times (11 May 2014). Historians at the university announce that there has been a change of mindset. One states that ‘out of bounds’ limits …once were rigorously policed by colonial and post-colonial institutions, but no student now would ask her if she feared arrest for discussing heterodox views. What did the historian discuss in class that would elicit such concern by students? What was the reply given?
Whatever the case may be, the message is that those bad old days of being scared to write is over; it is time to celebrate openness. Now that the ‘revisionist’ books have been published, it is time for a history book that tells the story of successes and failures together, just as the Americans liberated itself from the atrocious record of slavery, and cleansed the national soul of past wrongdoings by writing about it openly. Movies like 12 years a Slave also help cleanse the national soul of past wrong-doings, says The Professor.
Like African American history and the civil rights movement, writing of Coldstore and other operations is part of a larger justification and fight for change to the status quo on the part of those who were suppressed. The former political detainees write to set the record straight, and thereby demand admission by the government that it did gross violence to the political process and to its victims. There has not been any serious and substantive challenge to their contention, only indirect responses that cast aspersions on the writers, or that trivialize or misrepresent their work.
What to do?
The leading lights of Singapore’s intellectual establishment found themselves saying the darnest things in the mainstream media, including painting the university as a thought-controlled institution till not so long ago. This would have been considered travesty of the highest order to besmirch the good name of the institution and the country, uttered only by those harbouring malevolent intent, except that it seems to be the way chosen to stave off having to deal with Operation Coldstore in an open manner, having to historicise the event rather than to continue to politicise it.
That Operation Coldstore was necessary for national security is at the very heart of the PAP myth; it is also the Party’s original sin.
It is not possible to change Singapore history, from the old testament to the new testament whether it is seen as 700 years or 50 years long–from the rule of the god of wrath to the god of love without first admitting to that sin. It is a difficult transition to make; it calls for an entirely new social compact which repudiates the old. It needs to be built on trust and mutual respect. But it seems that the day has not yet arrived.
The handlers of Operation Coldstore in history try to manage the transition, which seems nigh impossible for them to do as scholars.
It is a particularly exciting time to be a student of history in Singapore today.
Especially those in the Yale-NUS College, it would seem.
on knowing the past in Singapore
To Keep Singaporeans Thinking by Roy Ngerng Yi Ling 鄞义林
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